By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- With the likes of Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and potentially Dont'a Hightower departing the middle of the Patriots' defense in the offseason, there was a rather wide expectation that the Patriots might look to add a young, aggressive playmaker through the draft. While the addition of Mack Wilson via trade might help, there was some buzz about the Patriots potentially eyeing Devin Lloyd, Quay Walker, Chad Muma, Nakobe Dean and others in the draft.
Instead, the Patriots avoided the position altogether, and basically bypassed drafting anyone in the front seven, aside from Northwest Missouri State defensive end Sam Roberts in the sixth round.
In doing so, the Patriots' front office shifted a lot of hope and expectations upon the shoulders of Cameron McGrone.
That type of hype has already been present among Patriots fans, many of whom celebrated the pick of the Michigan linebacker a year ago as a smart long-term selection by Bill Belichick. McGrone suffered a torn ACL during the 2020 season for the Wolverines, hurting his draft stock. But with the Patriots stocked fairly well at the position, the team could afford to essentially give McGrone a medical redshirt year to get back to full strength.
Now, with the aforementioned departures and a lack of obvious replacements, all eyes will be focused squarely on McGrone as the Patriots begin their work toward the 2022 season. Director of player personnel Matt Groh made sure of that when he mentioned McGrone after being asked about the lack of linebacker picks.
"Really excited about that group," Groh said of the linebackers. "Excited to see Cam McGrone was able to get on the field a little bit last year. Excited to see him be in an expanded role. He's kind of an additional draft pick. You can kind of put him along there with the three guys that we've been able to add here today along with some of the other guys from last year. That all kind of counts to getting younger, getting faster, being a tough team. ... I think we've got a lot of names there and a lot of experience, and mix in some youth, so I think it's a good group."
Groh also made sure to mention Ja'Whaun Bentley -- who re-signed with the Patriots on a two-year deal worth up to $6 million in the offseason -- in that group, but it's the McGrone callout that's sure to add to the pressure placed upon the soon-to-be-22-year-old's shoulders.
McGrone only played in 16 games at Michigan, recording 92 total tackles (52 solo), with 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. He didn't have any interceptions, and he defended just one pass while forcing just one fumble. He was an honorable mention for All-Big Ten honors in 2019, when he played in all 13 of the Wolverines' games. Despite that somewhat limited experience, McGrone was rated highly ahead of the 2021 draft, and there's been no shortage of promotion for McGrone's potential among New England fans, media, and now front office personnel.
How the 6-foot-1, 236-pound McGrone actually plays in the NFL is yet to be seen. But it's clear that once the 2022 season begins, a whole lot of people will be expecting a whole lot out of him.
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